The mountains call me — injured ankle and all


OK, with the forests open, there's just no more excuses left. Except my ankle is still hurting a little bit too much to start my hiking regimen and get back into shape.

Yeah, I know. I said that I would get back into shape after my heart problems a couple of months ago.

Then I twisted my ankle and then they closed the forest. I walked a little ways without my ankle brace on Thursday in Torrance County Park and it was fine.

But then Sunday came and I was taking pictures at a few different events. My ankle hurt more after that than during the short hike.

By the way, Torrance County Park is a place a lot of people don't know about and therefore it is not crowded at all. By that, I mean that there was nobody else there on Thursday and I hope not to change that.

The park is covered with piñon-juniper forest with more than ample parking for vehicles in between the trees and the cacti. Lots of room for volleyball nets, horseshoe pits and even fire rings when burning is allowed.

To keep it uncrowded, I am not going to give any more directions than to say it is southeast of Edgewood in Torrance County. For better directions, call or email me.

So, as usual, we started the monsoon season right after fireworks were banned. So we got enough rain since then to reopen the forests last week, making a trip to the Sandias or Manzanos a possibility.

Both offer long and short hikes, which I used to do a lot of on both sides of the mountains. When I was a waiter in Albuquerque, I worked split shifts and often would go on short hikes in the afternoon between shifts.

One of my favorite places was Embudito Canyon, which had a small waterfall with a water trough for wildlife at the base of it. With flowing water there, a plethora of varied flora could be found, and a short climb would get you to the top of a 10-foot piece of the chain of mini-waterfalls.

There was a shaded area to stop in with a small, shallow pool of water as well. But it was often crowded there since it's near a large subdivision in Albuquerque.

Some days it wasn't as crowded but there were telltale signs of human activity, including trash and, sometimes, broken glass.

On a warm, uncrowded afternoon there sometime in the '90s, I encountered a young couple with two kids who told me that they had lost their dog somewhere up there. They told me his name was Damien and that he was a Rottweiler.

But, they insisted, he was extremely gentle and would come if his name was called. I wrote down their phone number, never expecting to see them or their dog again.

I crossed the water several times before taking a couple of steps up the rocks to climb to the next level when I saw a face reminiscent of the dog in "The Omen."

I came back off of those rocks, half-expecting the dog to jump on top of me. But, when I calmed down and whispered, "Damien," to him, he wagged his stub of a tail like he was as happy to see me as my own dogs would have been.

I wondered how in the heck Damien would have gotten up there since a four-legged creature wouldn't have been able to ascend the 90-degree wall. I finally was able to find another way up and coax the Rottweiler down.

I thought that since it had only been a half-hour since I had seen the owners, I might try to catch them in the parking lot. I started running, since it was all downhill, and Damien did the same.

He did have a rope leash but easily could have broken it with the strength of his estimated 125 pounds behind him. But he stayed right with me—not even straying when another dog crossed his path.

We made it back in time as his owners were still in the parking lot, hopeful that Damien would come back. He was obviously happy to see them but still did not break his leash.

I went to Embudito Canyon many more times over the years, even taking kids sleigh riding there when the water had frozen near the canyon floor. But Damien was probably the best company I ever had there.

Since I don't live near Embudito or go there often, I will tell you how to get there but I can't guarantee how much water is there now. I haven't been there for about three years now and last went during the spring snow melt, a time of plentiful water.

Anyway, if you go to the second stop sign east of Tramway Boulevard on Montgomery (near Smith's), take a left. After a couple of curves, you will see a little brown sign for the park which is at the end of a street on the right.

So I am off to get back into shape again with the humidity rising all across the East Mountains and Torrance County. I am looking forward to backpacking again one day like I did in my youth but am taking it one day at a time.

It's my own 12-step program because my ankle, or anything else for that matter, shouldn't hurt after just 12 steps.

I will be starting at least a weekly hike this week. Or whatever week this darn rain stops!

Wait, but then it will be too dry.